Naturally buoyant

Floats are the simplest type of watercraft and exist in many shapes and sizes all over the world. They work by being lighter than water: either being made of a buoyant material, or having a structure with air pockets. The smallest and most elementary floats are swimming aids. In Iraq, a commonly used traditional swimming aid is Karab, the palm frond stump – a light woody material that connects each palm frond to the trunk.

Hollow and inflatable components

Other items typically used until recent times as floats include calabash gourds – remembered in western and northern Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan as swimming aids or raft components – and inflated skins of goats or sheep (in more recent decades often replaced with inflated tyre inner tubes). When connected together by a raft platform, these are capable of supporting huge loads of cargo.

The floating bundle

Another popular traditional float, particularly in the Marshes of Iraq and other wetlands around the world, is the reed bundle. The simplest of these were swimming aids used while fishing or hunting wildfowl: the hunter’s body would be submerged in the water, but kept afloat by two bundles of reeds tied together (bringing stability, as a single bundle will rotate in the water). The same technology was also used to make the Shasha, a reed bundle “boat” (technically a raft as it floats on the water rather than using displacement).